I feel like the child of a broken home today. The divorce of my country from the EU has left me feeling like a usurper in my current country of residence (France) this morning, and I can’t shake my feelings of sadness and regret that this day has finally come. But the rhetoric that Boris Johnson has “got brexit done” feels like someone who says that once a divorce is finalised, it’s all over. This won’t be the case, I don’t feel.
I wrote earlier about how the 1942 film A Brief Encounter summed up how I felt about the current political climate of the UK. It feels even more like that, now that we’ve left the EU.
It’s so interesting to see my country from the outside, and to consume media looking at the politics of Brexit from a European perspective. It must be just as obvious how divided the UK is from the inside, but from this distance the line is as obvious as a great gulf, a ravine, the Great Wall of china, the Grand Canyon. The jubilation of the Leave voters standing in Parliament Square singing the national anthem with gusto, contrasted with the many friends of mine who went down to silently protest their festivities. Or, perhaps more poignantly, contrasted with the screening of a film featuring two veterans, Sid and Stephen, projected onto the white cliffs of dover. The two of them lamenting the erosion of all they fought for 75 years ago. The EU was supposed to be about unity, of effort, of will, of ethos, of economy, and of trade. It was supposed to be a union which provided European support and camaraderie. We’re all in this together.
not so, anymore.
It looks like a dream sequence, a message caught out of time, played in light on the surface of the landscape. Farage himself said that he had “transformed the landscape of our country”. He has. It’s become a less welcoming, more insular space, in which Britishness, or rather a perverse kind of “Englishness” is being touted. The landscape is littered with political slogans, now that we’ve “got Brexit done” – what’s the next course of action? What are you going to do with your commemorative tea towel, now?
The men in that video will most likely not live to see us rejoin, if we ever do. They lived through mass disruption in the economic climate, the horrors of war, the gross economic and social injustice of the first half of the last century. All for it to be rolled back again before their time on earth had come to an end. The tide of time turning under us, delivering us back to the shores of injustice over and over again. If that’s true, though, we will probably be able to come back to the opposite side, and find fairness, justice, and equality there too. How long will it take? How many of us will we lose to a system that serves only the most affluent of us? The people rallying around Farage reminded me of people rallying after a huge revolution – like the final scene of an even shitter version of Les Mis, except no one can sing in tune, and instead of fighting against the rich, they’ve fought for them. Most of them are the rich, and if they’re not, they’re so fixated on the possibility that one day they might be, that they can’t see how big a lie it all is.
I keep thinking of Molly Scott Cato’s final speech in the European Parliament. Her voice quivering with hardly choked back tears, and a promise to one day return. This is how I feel, cast adrift in a country that doesn’t see its connections to the wider world as truly important. A country that still thinks it runs an empire, has endless resources, and still believes in an old way of doing things. We’ve never been a revolutionary people. Our tube strikes last a day. France shut down its public services for 6 weeks, they set themselves on fire, the barricaded the streets, they marched, they shouted. Granted we marched to remain, but we should have marched to remain before the vote. shouldn’t we? I guess it’s all well and good saying what we should have done. We’ve left. We’re out. Everyone the world over thinks we’re stupid. Apart from Trump, maybe, and some odd American Alt-Right accounts I ended up embroiled with on Twitter.
As I said: We’ve never been a revolutionary people. It’s why I find it so laughable that we are currently acting as though this is a revolution, when it serves, not the people who work hard in this country, or live and die on its streets, or in its factories and shops and pubs and cleaning companies; but that it serves bankers, land owners, landlords, the gentry. A revolution made by the people for the few at the top. How can it sell so well, and be so popular when it seems to obvious to me to be for the few who can afford to weather the storm, not for those in houses without weatherproof walls.
The way this has been written about in Le Monde has been interesting to see. Today:
L’interminable crise politique qui, à Londres, a suivi le référendum de juin 2016 a eu ceci de positif qu’elle a permis non seulement aux Européens de faire leur deuil de quarante-sept ans d’un mariage avec le Royaume-Uni où l’amour n’a jamais réussi à fleurir, mais aussi d’analyser sereinement les causes de la rupture.
Même s’il s’agit d’une décision purement nationale, liée tant à l’insularité qu’au lien historique si singulier qu’entretiennent les Britanniques avec l’exercice de la souveraineté, ses motivations renvoient à des forces largement à l’œuvre dans les 27 autres pays de l’Union : nationalisme, sentiment d’abandon des oubliés de la mondialisation, défiance à l’égard des institutions et des responsables politiques, démagogie et populisme.
(Translated): The unending political crisis in London following the referendum of June 2016 has been positive not only so that Europeans could grieve for the 47 year marriage with the UK, where love has never managed to flourish, but also to serenely analyse the causes of the rupture.
Even if it’s purely a national decision, linked as much to isolationism as to the singular bond the British have maintained to the exercise of sovereignty, these motivations are seen in the forces at work in the 27 other countries in the European Union: nationalism, a feeling of being forgotten by globalisation, distrust of institutions and politicians, demagogy and populism.
The line “Where love has never managed to flourish” is so cutting. I love Europe. I love the relationship we’ve had, and the unity I’ve seen, and the benefits I have gained as a result of being part of this mass conglomerate of countries. The benefits we all gained as a country. It’s so interesting to me that most remainers are only saying to the leavers that “oooh you’ll have to go in the big queue now when going on holiday to spain” instead of “oooh your human rights are probably going in the pan and we might have to just eat canned peas for a while” – or, you know, your doctor might have to go back to his country because he feels so unwelcome and now can’t treat you.
It’s true, though – our love of the EU never did quite manage to flourish. We were never all in. whilst 49% of us were in support of the EU, and a lot of what it stood for, our governments have never quite managed to make a true union a reality. We were like that boyfriend that keeps promising he’s going to make a change, but he never really does. Maybe the EU will be better without us, but I doubt that we will be better without it.
Farage is right, this will change the landscape of the country. We’ve not experienced such a big shift since 1973 when we joined the EU. In fact, when I think about it, we may not have experienced such a change since 1945. Especially as the EU of 2020 is a far cry from the EU of 1973, so many more countries are involved, the euro has come into play. Additionally, it’s not only England we’ve brought out of the EU. We’ve dragged three other countries out of the union with us: Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Granted, Wales also voted to leave so perhaps we’re not dragging them, but 62% of Scotland and 55% of Northern Ireland didn’t want to leave at all. How can we in good conscience pull them out of a union they wanted to stay in? The case for Scottish independence is a strong one, as is the case for the reunification of Ireland as the border down the Irish sea becomes harder and harder.
There will be shift, and there will be change. It’s almost like we’re cutting England and wales out: Contra Mundum. Great Britain becomes fragmented Britain. The United Kingdom: divided.